News about cancer: how to recognize a lie?

Cancer – the topic is very relevant, it is regularly raised in the media. The scientists invented a new drug, on the contrary, new means someone has not helped.

Given the prevalence of the disease (almost everyone is sick or a friend or a friend of a friend) the news about the cancer people perceive emotionally, and these emotions can impede critical thinking. Sometimes it happens otherwise – promising new technique called “miraculous healing” and the credibility immediately drops. How to understand whether to trust those or other news? Several councils have prepared a Foundation for cancer research in the UK (Cancer Research UK).


Look for the answer to the question of where and how the study was conducted. It was involved in cell culture in the laboratory, mice or men? All these stages of drug development, and while the agent did not show his safety in the laboratory and on animals, clinical trials on humans will not. At each stage, the new drug can work differently, so the “magic medicine” tested only in a Petri dish, with a high probability while a cure is not. Also – how many mice or people took part in the work? 10? 100? 1000? The more – the more reliable the result.

How long?

Another important factor. How long was watching the patients? A week? A month? Year? The longer the better, as drugs can have side-effects, manifested in the long term. And if data was taken from past research? Human life is constantly changing, and newer data may be more credible.


There are many factors that can affect the outcome of the experiment. If we talk about cancer – it can be alcohol, diet, physical activity. It is impossible to alter only one variable, in addition, often for scientific papers use data that provide the participants themselves, and the information can be inaccurate. Something scientists take into account, but the gaps always remain, and therefore need long-term monitoring and large sample.


From what source came the news? If the World mounding Association reports that the pillows are good for health, it does not mean that they are wrong, but someone here is clearly an interested party. Reading is not only the news or article, but also comments of experts, often can understand how the results correlate with the existing research base. However, the experts should be treated critically.


Scientists prefer to publish their articles in journals that reiseroute other scientists, and these articles typically contains enough data so that other groups could repeat the experiment. This verification allows us to consider the results reliable. But if the information came from a conference – it is likely that it is still preliminary, and the study is not yet complete.


One of my favorite techniques. “The pillows double the risk of cancer” – but this risk can be initially, for example, of 0.0001%, and with the cushions of 0.0002%. Not so big difference actually, the discomfort from the lack of pillows some people have a complete advantage. You should always consider the specific data.

All this does not mean that “all lies”, “bad” or anything like that. However, if you step back from the emotions and consider incoming information through the lens of critical thinking, it is possible to distinguish the first steps in any field from a real scientific breakthrough.

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